Interviewed by David Felix
Date: April 15th, 2006
The names Pete Wells, Chris Morgan, Blackie Sanchez, Jesse Wright and Veronica Freeman probably don't immediately ring a bell. But put them all together and this group becomes San Diego's newest metal sensation Benedictum who are poised and ready to burst into the scene with a vengeance.
In only a few short months, their debut release "Uncreation" has been the subject of rave reviews from critics through out the world. Now gearing up for their first appearances at some of this summer's hottest European festivals, lead vocalist Veronica Freeman was kind enough to take the time to sit down with us and discuss her experiences with Benedictum in what turned our to be her very first North American interview. Here's what she had to say...
How and when was the band first formed?
Oh not that question! (Laughs) Let’s see… in its current line-up, this band’s only about eight or nine months old. But actually, the deal is that late last year Pete and I were playing in a band together out here in San Diego called Malady who had been playing for a number of years - they were a metal band. As a matter of fact, some of our songs were, sort of, morphed from that. We had been writing together for a while, jammed around San Diego and had a lot of fun but it was just a local thing. We got to do a lot of good shows and opened up for some good acts and did pretty well for a band from San Diego… but it was still JUST a band from San Diego. So the rest of the band wanted to continue doing that and Pete and I were just like, “Ya know, we’re not getting any younger. Let’s see what happens if we get real serious and do some recording.” That’s when we left and we’d known Blackie for a while… he’d been jammin’ with a band called G-13. Then Chris, Blackie, and I were all in a DIO tribute band called Evilution and we had a different bass player at first. His name was Mike Morris but he ended up getting some property in Idaho and moved there, so we had actually done the recording without a bass player… that’s when (Jeff) Pilson stepped in which was REALLY cool. And then we found Jesse who was standing in with a band called Cage and we saw him play and we were like, “That’s the one!” And there you have Benedictum!
Who came up with the name of the band and how did you decide to finally go with that?
Well, that decision was kinda made for us. We went through quite a few incarnations. At first we called ourselves Regime, but that didn’t work. Then we all decided on the name Bound and actually went into the whole recording process with that but the people who started to shop us didn’t think that the name fitted us well. So they picked the name Benedictum from one of our songs because they felt it sounded stronger and was more representative of what we were like. We were NOT happy about it, at first. It was just “too long.” (Laughs) So anyway, it stuck. The label liked it and didn’t want us to change it. They were like, “Hey, if you can come up with something better… go for it!” And we had come up with a couple of other things but they didn’t like any of them… so, in the end, it was just chosen for us.
So who does most of the writing for the band?
I write all the lyrics and melodies and, I’d say, a lot of the music is based around Pete’s riffs but at this point now, as we grew together making this album, there’s definitely input from everybody. But I’d say the founding thing is Pete’s riffs. In the future, I’m sure there’ll be a lot more input from everybody else but Pete and I came into this with a lot of ideas and songs already written.
Who are your influences both personally and as a group?
That’s a WIDE range… let’s do the group thing first. As a group, with Blackie it ranges from anybody from Buddy Rich to John Bonham to jazz greats, etc. Let see… Pantera, Savatage… there’s such a wide range of influences. Randy Rhodes, George Lynch, Lincoln Brewster… a lot of different guitar players and, of course, there’s the DIO thing going on. My biggest influence, believe it or not, is Tina Turner which a lot of people don’t realize. Someone had given me the whole collection of stuff she had done from like DAY ONE as a gift and if you actually listen to the rawness and the power of her voice, it’s INCREDIBLE! And the energy is just amazing!
How did you hook up with Jeff Pilson as your producer and what was it like working with him?
That came through Craig Goldie. Craig has been a friend of mine for many, many years and he always vowed that when the time was right, he’d help us in any way he could. So he was down in San Diego listening to some of the rehearsal recordings that we had and said, “Oh my God! This is the one! We need to do something with this.” So we recorded the demo, gave it to him to take to his people and they were like, “Well, we can definitely see the talent… it just needs more production.” Then at that time Craig said, “Ya know what? I’m gonna hook you up with Jeff Pilson if he’s willing to take you on.” So we were totally “nail-biting” on that one. But he sent it up to him and Jeff was like, “These guys sound pretty good, I’m willing to work with them!” We only had enough money for a three song demo, which we did, and he was absolutely incredible! We were so nervous going up there. We took everything with us… stuff we had done with Malady, stuff we had done as Benedictum and just laid it all out on the table and Jeff listened to everything. He dissected some things, left some things alone and just picked the top three songs that he wanted to work with. He’s an extremely intense person. We consider him a very, very good friend now and he’s very personable, but when it comes to music… his house could be on fire and he wouldn’t even know! (Laughs) We use to joke with him about that because he would just get so intense but he definitely brought out the best in us. So we call him “the Task-Master” but he’s also just a really great person. He had me doing stuff with my voice that I had never done before, thanks to him!
Yeah, Jeff is great! He had nothing but good things to say about you guys which is why I had been following your progress for so long.
Awwww… that’s sweet. He such a great guy!
What was the recording process like after you hooked up with Jeff?
Because we’re in San Diego, it was difficult because of all the going back and forth to record. The actual recording process, though, was great! I mean, for me, I remember a couple of times I had to shed a few tears because it was just so intense. But, like I said, he’s a great guy and he made it cool. He didn’t make me cry, I would just get frustrated because he wants you to do your very best and he’s not afraid to tell you, “Honey, that’s not your best.” Even if you think it is! So it was a very intense process and he really put us through our paces but I think he made us better musicians all the way around… no doubt!
While you were recording the CD, what did you find most challenging?
For me, it was coming up with the same energy every time and trying to emote the same thing. I mean, I thought it sounded the same but he would say, “No, that’s not what you did yesterday!” And I’d be like “It is what I did yesterday!” then he’d say, “No, no, no… it doesn’t have that same atmosphere to it!” So trying to recapture that was what made me feel very frustrated after a while. I’d feel like I had a really good day, then the next day I wouldn’t. See, with a voice it’s a little different than with an instrument although the same kind of thing applies as far as you may be playing really on fire one day and not the next. But to get the inflections of the voice and to get that energy and capture it day after day, THAT was challenging.
You decided to go with Locomotive Records as your label. What made you decide on them and how have they been treating you so far?
So far, we’re very happy because they’ve given us a lot and have put a lot into our promotion. I mean for a brand new band from San Diego, California, that’s kinda
unheard of but we’ve been in a lot of magazines and it’s starting to take off. We’ve done a lot of interviews and they really put a lot into that. We got hooked up with them through Jeff. One of Jeff’s friends who hooked him up and got him going in Europe a while back, took a listen to our demo and was like, “Yeah, I think I can do something for these guys.” He felt we definitely had that European sound so he started from there; put all these little packages together and off they went! We got two or three offers out of them right away but out of those, he felt Locomotive would be the best as far as not letting us just sit on the shelf. So we took his word for it because neither myself nor any of the other members of the band really knew all that much about the European labels and which would better, so we trusted his judgment and so far, so good!
I understand both Craig Goldie and Jimmy Bain were guests on the CD as well. What was it like working with them and what tracks did they play on?
Craig played on “Valkyrie Rising” towards the end. There’s like a duel lead section going on and that’s between him and Pete and then Jimmy Bain played on “The Mob Rules.” As I said, I have known Craig for years and we’ve always had a dream of being able to work together, so that was just one of those “Kodak moments” being able to just watch him do his thing and to have him actually have the time to fit us in to his busy schedule and come down was just a blessing. It was GREAT! And he was just as excited about it as we were! He’s such a great guy… and then the Jimmy thing happened towards the end. We were done, basically, but then the label said they wanted to do a bonus track and we had done versions of both “The Mob Rules” and “Rainbow In The Dark” a while back and threw them up on MySpace briefly… VERY briefly. I mean, they were just thrown together just for fun but, I guess, someone from Locomotive had head them and said, “Well why don’t you put them on there?” But they weren’t recorded the same, the quality wasn’t the same and we didn’t have the money to put into it. Jeff was getting ready to go on tour with Foreigner and I was getting ready to go to Korea for a couple of weeks so we had to throw something together really quick. So Jeff was like, “I think this’ll be really cool and if you’re interested, I think Jimmy Bain might be available. Just give him a call and see if he’d be willing to work with you and tell him I sent you.” So, he gave me Jimmy’s number, I called him and he was like, “OK!” So he came down to San Diego and that was hilarious! It was like being in a sitcom or something… he’s absolutely INSANE! We all had a really good time. So, we knocked it out and there ya go!
How much influence did they have on you as far as putting the two Black Sabbath covers on the release?
They didn’t! The influence was “time” and the label… bottom line. As I said, it was towards the end of recording and we had already walked in knowing we were going to do “Heaven and Hell.” I’ve been singing that song for years with my other bands and it’s always been fun to do… live especially, just watching people’s reactions to hearing a woman perform it. We had no intention of putting two Black Sabbath covers on there. So we had to do something quick that we all knew really well because we only had like two days from the time they told us they wanted us to do a bonus track. Literally recording it in the studio in one day then mixing it down in San Diego the next. That’s when Jimmy came down and we were originally going to do “Rainbow In The Dark.” So we did that and actually ended up having enough time to record a back-up, which was “The Mob Rules.” When we heard the play-back of “Rainbow In The Dark,” our jaws dropped. It just didn’t have that “edge” to it at all and didn’t seem to have that same energy we put into “Heaven and Hell.” So we were very disappointed and were like, “There’s no way we can put two Black Sabbath covers on here!” But we really didn’t have any choice and “The Mob Rules” had turned out so much better so… we went with that.
What’s the most valuable thing you’ve learned through out the writing, recording and releasing of “Uncreation?”
THAT is a good question! Honestly, the value of the people around you. The value of being able to focus… I was just so dispersed with my own job, being stretched so thin and being in a band like this, it’s a relationship. I can see now how when you hear stories about bands breaking up, tearing each other apart and all the dissention… it really made me appreciate the quality of people I have had the pleasure of working with. The band itself, Craig, Jeff, Jimmy, the people working with us and just everybody! If you work cohesively and have a focus, it’s amazing what can be created. So that was definitely the best and most important thing I’ve learned and how important it is to be able to focus your energy into something.
Have you played any live shows yet in support of the release?
The only live show we’ve played was opening up out here for Lynch Mob. We’re getting ready now and practicing like crazy to get ready to go to Europe in June and THAT I can’t even to begin to tell you how excited we are about. We’ll be playing at “The Gods of Metal” festival on the fourth day, which is also the headline day, which is GREAT! I think we got the first slot for that and that’ll be in Milan. Then we definitely have two other shows set. One will be at this place called the “Bee-Bop” in Belgium then the other is at “The Dynamo Club” in Holland. We have some tentative dates in Spain as well but nothing’s been confirmed yet. We may also, possibly, be doing some shows in the UK. We’ll be leaving around the 1st of June and will be gone about a week and a half and I can’t tell you how excited we are! (Laughs) Things are just starting to happen now but I just got an email a little while ago scheduling a bunch more interviews but you’re actually our first here in the States! (Laughs) So I’m all excited!
So nothing in the States yet?
No, it’s funny because here we are from San Diego and playing all these European festivals! (Laughs) We do have some things in the works, though. Possibly playing in New York, but nothing definite right now.
That’d be great if you played New York… that’s where we’re based out of!
That’s RIGHT! So you could come and see us! That’d be cool… I’ll have to keep you posted and try to make sure that it happens!
What do you feel is the biggest difference between the European metal scene and the metal scene here in the U.S.?
Well, it’s obvious to me because I’ve been to Italy and Germany just briefly over the past six months… just touching base down there and love for metal over there never really switched. Where as here, I know there’re are a lot of really good bands out there but they’re not getting any attention. They’re not getting any money from any labels… they’re getting nothing and all you seem to get is your “flavor of the day” or whatever’s really popular at the moment. All their money is going into that but there’re a lot of other really talented bands out there that have more diverse styles… maybe more classic styles or more traditional or whatever… that are getting NO attention. You have to really go and seek them out, which I think is a shame. That’s the difference that I see. I am hoping that that will change, and that there’ll be more room at the table for all sorts of new bands but who’s to say if that will ever happen. It never died over there. It may not be as loud as it used to be, but there’s a love over there for all types of metal and you just don’t see that intensity here. I think it is here, it’s just not being pushed or capitalized on… you really have to seek it out.
With bands like Velvet Revolver, HIM, and The Darkness becoming more and more popular, do you think the genre is making a comeback?
I certainly hope so. We just did our thing to do our thing and it is so cool to see bands like that out there and the fact that it is changing. I’m surprised it’s taken this long, but I just talk to people about what I hear and there is a hunger for it. It just hasn’t been as available so I’m glad to see things happening!
So far, as far as Benedictum goes, if you could change one thing… what would it be?
Having more money! (Laughs) Having more money and a lot of tour support! I mean, I feel we have what we need as far as what’s within our own membership, but money would be great and to be able to get out there and tour to really drive this thing. I really hate to say it, but money really does drive the machine so that’s what I’d like to see… an infusion of some cash to get us out there whether it be Europe, the States or whatever. Just to be able to get a really cool tour going so we wouldn’t have to worry about our day jobs and would be able to concentrate solely on what we love and what our passion is… which is music!
What would you most like to accomplish over the next year?
My priorities are really supporting this album, getting it out there and having more time to concentrate on writing for our second album. Also, to focus on what I’ve learned. I would love to see us be able to just go away somewhere where all we do is write and just have this really intense time of writing and nothing else. I’d like to see us get our name out there and be with other bands like us that are coming up, doing their thing and collectively be part of a resurgence!
How about the next five years?
The next five years? That’s easy… I want to be a household name! (Laughs) I’m not going to lie about it... I want people to be like, “Yeah, I know them!” when they hear our name. I want this band to be talked about the way I talk about other bands, ya know? I want my place at the table! I also want to lose 15 pound but, we’re not going to talk about that! (Laughs) I’ve been working on that a lot longer than I’ve been working on music, let me tell ya! (Laughs) That’s the hardest one! We’ve got the album, now let me lose this weight! (Laughs)
Well that just about wraps it up. Is there anything else you’d like to say to your fans?
I’m glad I’ve got ‘em! (Laughs) I just hope that people enjoy listening to the album as much as we enjoyed making it and playing this music. That’s what it’s all about… at the end of the day, it’s all about the music. Get out there and buy it so I can go on tour… and join “Jenny Craig!” (Laughs) I’m sorry… I didn’t warn you that I was crazy did I? I should have warned ya! (Laughs)
Thanks, Veronica, for taking the time to do this. It really was a great time chatting with you and best of luck with the CD and your shows this summer!
Thank YOU, Dave, and I hope to hear from you soon! You keep in touch with me!!!